Columbus--The city’s gay and lesbian Pride Holiday parade and festival has traditionally been the largest in the state. But this year, even Columbus natives were surprised when attendance surpassed all expectations and prior records on June 28.
“Approximately 60,000 people have turned out for this year’s celebrations,” said Stonewall Columbus executive director Kate Anderson. Stonewall organizes the march and festival.
Unlike the sweltering heat and humidity of the 2002 Pride festivities, this year’s celebrations took place under milder temperatures, but still with sunny skies.
The 22nd annual Pride Holiday celebration culminated nearly a week of Pride events sponsored by Stonewall and other local businesses and organizations.
This year’s parade included a segment of the 1˝-mile long rainbow flag from the Pride celebration earlier this month in Key West, Florida. The banner, carried by 18 marchers, led the march from Goodale Park to Bicentennial Park.
According to Patrick Gallaway, development director of Stonewall Columbus, there were several thousand paraders “on 50 floats, on foot, and in vehicles,” including flatbed trucks with dancers and a mini-parade of 1940s and ’50s cars. A reporter counted 4,036 people in the parade. These joined a large number of spectators and another crowd already at Bicentennial Park.
Many police officers were posted all along the parade route, especially where anti-gay picketers had congregated, to keep paraders and protesters separated.
The parade included contingents from Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Dayton and other areas in Ohio. There were a number of LGBT-friendly religious groups marching, including a Buddhist group for the equal treatment of all humanity.
Many bars and gay establishments across the state had colorful floats with lots of eye candy from drag queens to muscle men, including floats from Wall Street and Tradewinds in Columbus.
The 1˝-mile parade route took about an hour and 15 minutes to be traversed by the entire parade from start to finish.
One noticeable difference at this year’s parade was that the route was crowded with spectators all along the way. Normally, crowds have only congregated by Goodale Park and the Short North area where the parade steps off and then by the City Center where the parade makes its final turn towards Bicentennial Park.
‘Flaggots’ win best Pride theme
Once the parade reached the City Center Mall, the audience’s spirits seemed to soar as they cheered the marchers and the colorful floats.
At the festival, WBNS Channel 10’s openly gay weatherman Chuck Gurney, who served as one of the judges for the float competition, announced the winners:
Best Pride Theme went to the Columbus Flaggots, a gay performance troupe that uses flag twirling to entertain audiences. The most outrageous float was awarded to the Columbus Bears; the hottest women’s float went to Slammers Bar and Pub
The best contingent support was given to Toledo, who marched behing a car bearing openly gay city council member Louis Escobar. The prize for best overall float went to the Vine Café.
A special area for kids was cordoned off at the park, allowing parents to wander the festival while their children were safe and busy with activities. This year, the number of booths, both informational and commercial, was up.
The main stage at Bicentennial Park was emceed by Gurney. Performers included the Columbus Stompers and the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, among others. This year’s headliners were June and Bonnie Pointer, formerly of the Pointer Sisters.
June, adorned in rainbow striped angel wings, and Bonnie in a rainbow feathered boa, got the festival audience up on its feet and dancing to several of their hits including “I’m So Excited.”
The Pride festivities ended with couples taking the stage to participate in the commitment ceremony that has become an annual part of Columbus Pride.
Opponents are louder
Anti-gay picketers were present at this year’s parade as in the past. While they were concentrated mainly by the Statehouse--in the past they have been by the Convention Center and other spots--they were more belligerent and confrontational than last year. Some of this increase in their presence and vociferousness had been anticipated by GLBT leaders in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling in the Texas sodomy case.
Picketers also disrupted a Pride ecumenical worship service that morning at the First Congregational Church on 444 E. Broad Street. Several protestors entered the church and marched around the pews shouting.
Street preacher Charles Spingola’s group included about 50 people this year, including children under the age of ten. This included his 16-year-old son, who stood at the corner of Broad and High Sts. with a placard denouncing gays. Spingola, of Newark, Ohio, has protested every Columbus Pride event since 1991.
Over 100 counter protesters representing gay-affirming churches and family organizations assembled alongside the protestors. Many of them had come from the ecumenical service earlier that morning, and held their own placards affirming the value of GLBT folk in God’s eyes.
Peggy Reader and her granddaughter Lindsey Wallace stood by the protestors handing out buttons that read “I Am a Part of God’s Diversity.”
As the parade approached the City Center Mall, several picketers stepped out in front of it, shouting invectives and taunting the crowd. While the majority of the crowd stood by silently or laughing, some did try to confront the opponents.
One woman standing in the crowd took off her top and started dancing around two men with placards, chasing them away to an applauding audience. Another man almost got in a fistfight with a protestor but others stopped him as police approached to break up the brawl.
Bat ’n’ Rouge wraps up week
Some of the other highlights of this year’s week-long celebrations included an art show titled “An Exhibit of Pride” at Club 202. The main work, depicting a sailor in front of a rainbow flag by cartoon artist Michael Owens, was raffled off at the festival.
Friday night, the Royal Renegades, Columbus’s newest drag king group, strated the weekend off with a large performance to a packed house at the Wall Street Niteclub.
As in past years, the official closing to Pride celebrations was the annual Bat ’n’ Rouge fundraiser where drag queens and kings face off in a softball game. This year’s match was held on the grounds of the Africentric School on East Livingston Ave. in the Olde Towne East neighborhood.
Bat ’n’ Rouge brought in an astonishing 4,400 people, almost double of last year’s crowd. The two teams, the Monistats and Hygienes, were represented by a colorful array of drag performers including parodies of Martha Stewart, Hilary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and Tina Turner, as well as Keanu Reeves and Tim McGraw.
The game was emceed in part by stand-up comedienne Judy Tenuta, who had the audience in splits with her raucous and sometimes off-color commentary.
Bat ’n’ Rouge raises money for the Columbus gay and lesbian softball league which will in turn give the funds to local groups like the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization and Stonewall Columbus.
Pride festivals elsewhere
Pride parades and festivals were held across the globe on the last weekend in june. Over 600,000 people turned out for Pride festivities in Berlin, and roughly the same number came out for Paris Pride.
In Toronto, where the Appeals Court of Ontario legalized gay marriage a few weeks ago, fear of SARS nearly canceled the parade and festival. However, over 12,000 people marched in the parade, and were joined by a quarter-million spectators.
Chicago saw almost 400,000 people, while 750,000 turned out for San Francisco’s Pride festivities. Atlanta and Seattle brought in record crowds for their events with 300,000 and 100,000 spectators, respectively.
Intimacy is ‘liberty protected by the Constitution,’
Washington, D.C.--The United States Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws on June 26 and came close to apologizing for allowing them to stand for the past 17 years.
The decision, which struck the Texas “homosexual conduct law” also voided similar laws in 12 other states and reversed a 1986 ruling allowing the measures. It is considered the most important GLBT civil rights decision ever handed down by the high court.
Before the ruling, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas still had laws criminalizing consensual oral and anal sex between adults of the same sex. Idaho, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico had similar laws that applied to heterosexuals as well.
Until 1963, all 50 states had the laws. Ohio repealed its sodomy law in 1972.
Though few were arrested for sodomy, the laws were widely used to brand GLBTs as criminals and justify discrimination in employment, housing, and in family courts.
The Texas case was brought by John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston, who were arrested and convicted of homosexual conduct in 1998 after police, responding to a neighbor’s false report, entered Lawrence’s apartment to find the two men having anal sex.
Since Lawrence and Garner were arrested, and paid fines of $200 plus $141.25 court costs after a night in jail, their case was considered perfect to challenge the controversial 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision that sodomy laws were constitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, declared that the court made a mistake with that ruling. “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and John Paul Stevens concurred with Kennedy.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also concurred with the majority, but with a separate opinion.
O’Connor wrote that she would not overrule Bowers, but agrees that sodomy laws that apply to gays and lesbians, but not heterosexuals, should be struck because they violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
“A law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the State’s moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review,” wrote O’Connor.
Stevens and O’Connor were on the high court in 1986 when Bowers was heard. At the time, O’Connor agreed with the 5-4 majority, while Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist was also on the court when Bowers was heard and sided with the majority then. He joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in dissent to the majority this time.
Thomas wrote a one-page dissenting opinion agreeing with Scalia, while calling the Texas law “uncommonly silly.”
“If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it,” wrote Thomas.
Scalia wrote that the constitution provides no fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy, and claims that an “unheard-of form of rational basis review” was used to make a ruling “that will have far-reaching implications beyond this case.”
Scalia, who is noticeably frustrated with the outcome of the case, took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.
“What a massive disruption of the current social order, therefore, the overruling of Bowers entails,” wrote Scalia.
Kennedy’s opinion notes that the reasoning in Bowers had been rejected by most nations in the western world even before 1986, and that “its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons.”
The majority opinion refers to intimacies of physical relationships as “liberty protected by the Constitution.”
“When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring,” wrote Kennedy. “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.”
The court ruled that states may no longer use criminal laws to enforce religious and moral codes at the expense of individuals’ liberty. It also said that Lawrence and Garner, and by extension all gays and lesbians, are entitled to respect for their private lives.
“The State cannot demean their existence or control their private destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” wrote Kennedy. “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”
Scalia wrote that in rendering its opinion, that the court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”
“It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war . . .” he wrote.
Groups filing “friend-of-the-court” for Texas in the case, which included most of the anti-gay establishment, claimed that finding sodomy laws unconstitutional could lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Most of the public statements made by such groups since the ruling have attempted to portray the case as being about same-sex marriage, not sodomy.
Both Kennedy and Scalia addressed the same-sex marriage issue in their opinions.
Kennedy wrote that the Lawrence v. Texas case “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.”
“Do not believe it,” wrote Scalia, noting the decision last month by the Canadian government to allow an Ontario ruling for same-sex marriages to stand.
“Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned,” wrote Scalia.
Ruth Harlow, legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and lead attorney in the case, called the decision “transitive.”
“With this decision,” she said, “the court changed from having a very demeaning attitude to a very respectful one toward GLBTs.”
“The court went out of their way to emphasize that all GLBTs are entitled to respect for their private lives,” said Harlow.
Harlow said the decision does not address other forms of discrimination.
“The court decides issues one case at a time,” said Harlow, “but we are now on a stronger footing to attack other forms of discrimination” including the so-called Defense of Marriage Acts, which deny recognition of same-sex unions by 37 states and the federal government.
Harlow said Scalia’s claim that the legalization of same-sex marriage is the next logical conclusion of the Lawrence decision, however, is “whistling in the wind.”
“Most telling is that he is in the minority with that opinion,” said Harlow, “and in his frustration with that.”
Harlow said this decision could influence the military’s ability to enforce its own sodomy laws or “don’t ask don’t tell” at some future time, but “that will have to be saved for another day.”
Harlow said she is “not disappointed at all” that the majority did not go farther with this case as equal protection, as O’Connor’s concurring opinion does.
“The Court was careful to emphasize that this case is about liberty,” said Harlow, “and liberty and equality go together.”
The anti-gay establishment has begun to spin the decision into a doomsday scenario.
Focus on the Family issued a written statement saying, “While it may feel good to some that a stigma is lifted from a particular group, something else has been lifted--the boundaries that prevent sexual chaos in our culture.”
The Family Research Council said, “Lawrence could do to the sanctity of marriage what Roe did to the sanctity of life,” referring to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Both organizations submitted “friend of the court” briefs in this case.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Bill Frist urged ratification of a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage as a counter to the decision on Meet the Press June 29.
One day after handing down the decision, the Supreme Court used it to vacate the sodomy conviction Matthew R. Limon, a Kansas teenager who was sentenced to 17 years for having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Had one of them been female, he would have gotten a maximum 18 months, and probably probation.
Harlow said she does not fear political backlash against GLBTs because of the decision.
“The majority of Americans decided long ago that these laws are inappropriate,” said Harlow. “The court just caught up.”
Cleveland--“Though our numbers here are small, our victory is big,” said Thom Rankin to a crowd of 55 on Cleveland’s Public Square the day the United States Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws.
The Cleveland celebration was one of 35 similar events around the nation marking the landmark June 26 decision.
The events were organized weeks earlier when the likely dates of the decision became apparent to court watchers. But no one knew until the ruling was handed down that morning if the 5 pm gathering would be a celebration or a protest. Cleveland’s event, which was the only one in Ohio, was organized by the Lesbian and Gay Service Center.
“It has taken 50 years to say that I am so proud of what transpired with the Supreme Court, said Rankin, who is president of the center, “and I don’t care who sees me here. Hi, mom.”
“What happened today is going to cause a rippling effect for our community in marriage, employment, and the military, said Rankin. “We have a long way to go, but now we are in their face.”
“We were freed from a terrible form of slavery,” said Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ. “What we do to show love for each other is no longer illegal and we need to celebrate.”
As petitions circulated urging legislators to end discrimination against GLBTs in areas not covered by the decision, such as in employment and housing, Bryan Guffey sang “Let Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime.
Washington, D.C.--The U.S. Supreme Court returned to Kansas appellate courts a case that challenged the state’s differing treatment of sex offenders whose acts involve gay sex and those whose do not.
The Supreme Court’s ruling came a day after its ruling in a Texas case. That ruling invalidated the Kansas anti-sodomy statute, according to Attorney General Phill Kline.
The case involves Matthew Limon, who is appealing his sentence of more than 17 years under the state’s “Romeo and Juliet” law.
Kansas law makes sex with a child under 16 illegal, no matter what the context. The “Romeo and Juliet” statute lessens the penalties when the partners are four years or less apart in age--but it specifically does not apply to same-sex couples.
In 2000, Limon, then 18, was sentenced to 17 years and two months for having sex with a boy who was nearly 15, who lived with Limon in a center for the developmentally disabled. Kansas courts had rejected his attack on the disparity in sentencing.
Had Limon or his partner been female, the maximum sentence would have been one year and three months. He has now served almost three years in prison.
The disparity in Kansas sentencing had defenders, particularly among legislators who viewed it as an extension of the law’s treatment of gay sex. State law criminalized sexual activity between adults of the same sex.
But the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling June 26 in the Texas case struck down that state’s law, similar to Kansas’, and laws in a dozen other states that criminalized oral and anal sex for both same-sex and different-sex couples.
Cleveland Heights--A petition drive for a domestic partner registry has surpassed the number of valid signatures it needs by over a thousand.
Heights Families for Equality needed 3,570 signatures of registered Cleveland Heights voters, and turned in 5,732 signatures on June 23.
Four days later, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections verified that 4,922 of those signatures are of registered voters living in the city.
At the next Cleveland Heights city council meeting on July 7, the clerk will certify that a petition with enough signatures has been filed with the city.
Council then has about two months to either pass the proposed ordinance or put it on the ballot for the November 4 election.
The measure would create a domestic partner registry for same-sex and opposite-sex couples over the age of 18. It would be open to both residents and non-residents of the city, and paid for by a fee for registering.
Cleveland Heights’ measure, if passed, will be the first domestic partner registry in the country created through a petition drive. It will also be the first domestic partner registry in the state of Ohio.
“Domestic partner registries provide a framework for public, private, and legal institutions that want to treat these families as families,” HFE spokesperson David Caldwell said. “Employers that want to provide domestic partner benefits or equal access to pensions and survivor benefits, hospitals that want to provide visitation rights, and schools that want to allow a partner to participate in a child’s education can use registries to make it easier to grant those benefits in a way that’s clear and fair for everyone.”
There is some talk in Cleveland Heights that city council members would prefer the issue not be on the November ballot. Some worry that it could become a polarizing issue used against the three members up for re-election this fall.
Mayor Edward Kelley, however, says that his concern is simply that it might get lost among the other ballot measures likely to be introduced for the November election, including a school levy, a statewide initiative and a tax for a proposed Cleveland Convention Center.
“The registry has a chance on its own,” he said, “but diluted, I don’t know. Voters will rank its importance with all those other issues, and it is hard to tell what they will pay attention to or what kind of voters will come out.”
Last year, Cleveland Heights extended spousal health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, making it Ohio’s only city to do so. Opponents of the benefits mounted a petition drive to repeal them, but failed to gather enough signatures.
Eric Resnick contributed to this story.
Bush paper says job discrimination is a ‘religious liberty’
Washington, D.C.--The Bush administration released a position paper on June 24 that referred to discrimination against LGBT people as “civil rights and religious liberty.”
The paper, which serves as a guide to talking points for the administration’s “faith-based” initiative, opines that religious organizations using government money to provide social services should only be subjected to federal civil rights laws, which do not protect on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and not state or local laws and ordinances.
“This hodgepodge of conflicting approaches has led to confusion . . . and a consequent reluctance by many faith-based groups to seek support from federally funded programs . . . The real losers are the homeless, the addicted, and others who are denied access to a range of effective social service providers, including faith-based providers,” the paper states, asserting that civil rights protections for LGBT people are detrimental to the ability of the poor to get social services.
“We consider this a declaration of war on the civil rights protections our community has won through hard-fought battles in many states and hundreds of municipalities across the nation over the last 30 years,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman said.
IRS boss suspended for bias
Washington, D.C.--An Internal Revenue Service supervisor has been relieved of her supervisory duties for a year and suspended without pay for 45 days for refusing a highly qualified job applicant because he is gay.
The Office of Special Counsel investigated the claim of the job applicant, who was employed with another federal agency and sought a computer program specialist job at the IRS.
The supervisor who interviewed him, according to the special counsel’s investigation, spoke to friends at other federal departments and discovered that the applicant was gay. She decided not to hire him because of his sexual orientation, according to one witness who sat in on the applicant’s interview. The witness also said she referred to the applicant’s sexual orientation using a derogatory term.
According to a number of different sources, this is the first time the Office of Special Counsel has forced the disciplining of an official for anti-gay bias.
The case began three years ago, and the special counsel, as part of the settlement, has agreed not to release the name of the applicant or the supervisor.
Delaware House passes rights bill
Dover, Del.--A bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation cleared the state House June 26 with the same number of votes it got last year before dying in a Senate committee.
Supporters of House Bill 99, which Gov. Ruth Ann Minner supports, believe it has a much better chance of passage in the Senate this year.
The bill was approved on a 21-18 vote with two absences. Last year, the measure was approved in the 41-seat House, 21-20.
The proposed legislation adds sexual orientation, “whether real or perceived,” to age, race and other factors that cannot be used to discriminate against people in employment, housing, public accommodations, insurance or public works contracting.
The bill exempts religious groups in most circumstances and does not require employers to offer benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees. It also does not apply to employment situations in which sexual orientation is advocated and in which minors are present.
The Delaware Senate will take up the bill when it reconvenes in January.
A choice: Your job or your partner
Rockford, Ill.--A gay music director’s firing from this city’s largest Catholic church has divided parishioners, some of whom rallied to his support with a picnic on June 22.
Bill Stein said Holy Family Parish officials gave him the ultimatum of taking a vow of chastity and giving up his partner of ten years or losing his job on June 17.
Stein has been with the church five years. He played organ, directed choirs and planned music for all church functions. He oversaw installation of a $777,000 pipe organ and led a church choir on an Italian tour that included a performance at the canonization of Pope John Paul II.
The church, about 50 miles west of Chicago, has 2,760 member families. Stein’s firing angered some of them, and he said he received more than 100 phone calls, letters and e-mails of support. On June 22, parishioners used a previously scheduled choir picnic to toast Stein and offer tearful farewells.
The flap began three months ago, when Stein and his partner decided they wanted to adopt a child. Some choir parents complained to church officials.
Boy Scouts lose $100,000 grant
Philadelphia--A major charity withdrew a six-figure pledge to a Boy Scout council after it lost a battle to admit gays, and the local United Way is considering following suit.
The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania said June 25 that it may yank or restrict its annual funding of the Cradle of Liberty Council, the nation’s third-largest Boy Scout chapter. The charity gives the council, which has 87,000 scouts in the city and its suburbs, about $400,000 a year.
The warning comes just weeks after Cradle of Liberty announced that it was doing away with its policy of refusing to admit openly gay members or leaders, then abruptly reversed itself after national Boy Scout officials threatened to revoke the group’s charter.
The council drew more fire by expelling an 18-year-old scout, Greg Lattera, for telling reporters he was gay during a news conference. The expulsion prompted the Pew Charitable Trusts, which had pledged $100,000 to the council, to withdraw its offer.
Pew was formerly a regular contributor to the Scouts, but ended its 50 years of patronage in 2001 because of the exclusion of gays.
United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania President Christine James-Brown said the group’s trustees voted to form a committee to examine whether the scouts’ policy of excluding gays is “out of balance” with the United Way’s rule that “the services we fund do not discriminate on any basis.”
The United Way might make the grant because its money goes entirely to a school-based “Learning for Life” program that is run by the scouts but doesn’t require membership and doesn’t exclude gays.
Local United Way chapters have already withdrawn funding from at least 50 Boy Scout councils nationwide.
New Jersey marriage law is in court
Trenton, N.J.--One day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law banning gay sex, an attorney for seven gay couples argued in a New Jersey courtroom that same-sex marriage should be legally recognized by the state.
A deputy attorney general countered that the issue belongs in the legislature, not the courts.
Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg said she would not rule on the matter for at least two months.
The June 27 hearing was on a state motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the same-sex couples.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick DeAlmeida said that while the state does not doubt the sincerity of committed relationships of same-sex couples, there is nothing in the New Jersey Constitution that guarantees their right to marriage.
David S. Buckel, the attorney for the couples, argued that the marriages should be allowed under the constitution’s guarantees of equality and privacy.
Buckel said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was heartening to those seeking same-sex marriages.
“The federal Supreme Court sent a very strong message that the day has come when lesbian and gay couples are due dignity and respect,” Buckel said.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
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